“Masterful writing and artistic storytelling combine to entertain and inspire readers in this larger-than-life tale of one tightrope-walker’s triumph over the impossible.”
Born to the talented French circus family the Gravelets, Jean-Francois Gravelet (better known by his stage name, The Great Blondin) is raised on a tightrope. Feeling bored and having already accomplished an amazing number of feats on the tightrope, including walking on stilts, riding a bike, and even cooking an omelet on a stove, in 1859 he comes up with an idea that challenges his skill, nerve, and showmanship: to walk a tightrope across Niagara Falls. Gravelet faces endless obstacles to surmount to accomplish his goal. And despite his fame as a performer, nothing about the feat is easy. Making the necessary arrangements is difficult. Permission to stretch a rope across the falls has to be obtained. A means for actually stretching and tightening the rope has to be devised. And when it is all in place, Gravelet has to actually stand up on the rope and walk out over the abyss. Bowman accomplishes the rare feat of sharing a remarkable moment in history with masterful storytelling that engages readers and teaches without the feel of a textbook. In perfect harmony of skill, Gustavson’s gouache and watercolor illustrations make the show shine as he captures Blondin’s lifetime of feats from various points of view, beautifully capturing the theatrics of the man with repeating one man tight-rope parades. Elements spill out over the white frame of the illustrations, paralleling The Great Blondin’s efforts to push the boundaries of what is possible.
In 1859, Jean-Francois Gravelet, known as The Great Blondin, walked across the Niagara River on a tightrope. What kind of man would do something like that? And more importantly, how do you become that man?
At the age of four, Jean-Francois Gravelet walked across his first balance beam. Later, he took to the tightrope like a spider to its web, and with his family troupe, he climbed toward stardom. Though his feats became more and more marvelous, he grew bored. That is, until he visited Niagara Falls and imagined doing something that no one else had ever accomplished. To cross the raging river, The Great Blondin needed an engineering process, determination, and a belief that what he could imagine, he could accomplish. In 1859, with all of the work completed, Blondin would step out onto the most dangerous tightrope walk he’d ever faced.
Author Donna Janell Bowman’s trademark in-depth research gives readers a clear and exciting look into the accomplishments of The Great Blondin, as well as the hard work, determination, and meticulous mathematic and scientific planning it took to cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Adam Gustavson’s detailed illustrations turn this book into an experience that will inspire readers of all ages.
Blondin’s entire life prepares him for his trip across Niagara Falls on the tight rope. As a toddler, he started on a thick board, then moved to a thinner and thinner board to make it to the tight rope. He learned how to set up and maintain ropes. He did increasingly difficult tricks so that when problems presented themselves on his Niagara Falls adventure, he was able to problem solve and accomplish his task. What is something hard you did recently? What prepared you to accomplish it earlier in life? What can you do now to give you experiences you can build on later?
It’s hard to imagine how difficult walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope would be. Can you practice your own balance?
Adam Gustavson is the illustrator of more than twenty books for children, as well as numerous periodicals. He holds a master of fine arts degree from the School of Visual Arts in New York, and teaches at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He lives in New Jersey.
To Justin, who would have found a clever way to engineer Blondin's rope. And to Ethan, who would have found a way to fish from it. And to Jean-Louis Brenac, Blondin's great-great-grandson, because his French family has been missing from Blondin's story for too long.